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The Center of the Puzzle (the “missing” Tuesday post) July 18, 2021

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Changing Perspectives, Healing Stories, Kundalini, Life, Mathematics, One Hoop, Philosophy, Science, Tantra, Vairagya, Wisdom.
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[This is the “missing” post for Tuesday, July 13th. You can request an audio recording of Monday’s practice via a comment below or (for a slightly faster reply) you can email me at myra (at) ajoyfulpractice.com.

In the spirit of generosity (“dana”), the Zoom classes, recordings, and blog posts are freely given and freely received. If you are able to support these teachings, please do so as your heart moves you. (NOTE: You can donate even if you are “attending” a practice that is not designated as a “Common Ground Meditation Center” practice, or you can purchase class(es). Donations are tax deductible; class purchases are not necessarily deductible.

Check out the “Class Schedules” calendar for upcoming classes. If you are using an Apple device/browser and the calendar is no longer loading, please email me at myra (at) ajoyfulpractice.com at least 20 minutes before the practice you would like to attend.]

 

“How is life like a puzzle? Or not like a puzzle?”

 

 

– quoted from the beginning of the practices on May 19th and July 13th

 

If we really think about it, it is not just our lives that are like puzzles. Our practice, our mind-body, even our relationships are like puzzles. There are all these different shaped pieces that sometimes fit together and sometimes don’t fit together. There are all these pieces that look like they could fit together, but don’t actually fit. Then there are all those little clues – like hard edges and different color schemes or patterns – that indicate what fits and what doesn’t fit.

When you are solving a puzzle (especially if it has a lot of pieces and/or it has an intricate design), it’s always helpful to have a picture of the finished product. It’s also nice to know that you have all the pieces (or, at the very least, that you know what pieces you have and which pieces are missing). In this way, our physical bodies – and, therefore, our physical practice of yoga are very much like a puzzle. We know the ankle bone is connected to the shin bone; the shin bone is connected to the knee bone; the knee bone is connected to the thigh bone; the thigh bone is connected to the hip bone; the hip bone is connected to the back bone; and that this construction is duplicated in the upper body. We also know that the muscles, nerves, tendons, and other connecting tissues fit together (and work together) in certain ways.

For instance, we know that the hamstrings and quadriceps work together to extend and flex the knee when we walk. We also know that if one leg is shorter (or stronger) than the other that that difference will affect the way we walk and will affect other parts of our bodies – even parts we don’t automatically recognize as being connected. The same is true if we are missing all or part of one leg or if all or part of one leg isn’t mobile. Even if you consider yourself “able-bodied,” you have probably had an injury that affected your mobility – or maybe you went hiking and messed up your shoe in a way that affected your gait. Or, maybe, you just got a rock in your shoe. Either way, take a moment to think back and consider how the change in one area affected all your other areas as you moved.

“The Cube is an imitation of life itself – or even an improvement on life.”

 

 

– Ernö Rubik

When it comes to our physical practice of yoga, our sequencing considers how the mind-body is mentally and physically connected and we also consider the energetic aspects of how we are connected. By building each āsana (“seat” or pose) from the ground up, we are able to ensure maximum amount of stability so that we can stretch and/or strengthen with intention and integrity. Similarly, we build the sequence from the ground up so that the mind-body is prepared to do each subsequent set of āsanas. This awareness of how things are connected is particularly important when we are practicing vinyāsa and/or implementing vinyāsa karma in order to achieve a “peak pose.”

While vinyāsa is often translated into English as “flow,” it literally means “to place in a special way.” Classically speaking, the poses are placed so that we exaggerate the body’s natural tendencies and, therefore, engage natural movement (even when moving in a way we might not normally move off the mat). When we forget the intention behind the movement we may find ourselves moving in a way that is counterintuitive and contraindicated by our basic anatomy and the fundamentals of kinesiology. Moving “in a way that is counterintuitive” can be subjective and is not always a bad thing. We definitely learn and grow when we play around with different types of movement. Also, while doing the same practice over and over again can be a great way to gauge progress and master a certain skill, getting “outside of the box” can also highlight bad habits that we’ve been “practicing.” Ultimately, one should always listen to the teacher within and consider if they are really ready to do certain things – especially since, not being mentally ready to do something can be just as dangerous as not being physically ready to do something.

On the flip side, movement that is contraindicated may not always be obvious – especially if we move fast enough and use momentum, rather than alignment and breath, to “muscle” into a pose. However, moving too much and too fast often results in injury. This can be a problem with some “flow” (or even “vinyasa”) practices that are not alignment and breath-based. Remember, just because we can do something (if we do it fast enough and with enough muscular force), doesn’t mean we it’s a good idea. Ideally, a practice works its way towards a “peak.” Maybe that peak is Śavāsana and a deep-seated meditation or maybe it’s a “peak pose” – i.e., something that a random person couldn’t walk into a room and do without being warmed up. Either way, this is where vinyāsa karma comes in handy. Vinyāsa karma literally means “to place the step in a special way.” In other words, it is a step by step progression towards a goal and it is a practice that can be utilized even in sequences where there is no “flow.”

Naturally, we can come at the physical practice of yoga (hatha yoga, regardless of the style or tradition) from a purely physical viewpoint and sequence accordingly. However, the system of yoga includes a mental and subtle body awareness which can also be accessed and harnessed through the poses and movement. Kundalini, Tantra, and Svaroopa are some of the yoga systems that specifically engage the energetic and subtle body through the practice of āsana; however, there can be tantric elements in any yoga practice that considers the way the mind-body-spirit is “woven” together. For instance, when I mention how the energy of our “first family, tribe, and community of birth” contributes to how we cultivate friendships with people we may perceive as “Other,” that is an element of tantra. When we warm up the core in order to have more stability in balancing poses, that is an element of tantra. When we open up the body in order to loosen up areas that may be holding stagnant energy, that also is an element of tantra. Notice, (especially as it relates to the last example) that any of these examples can happen outside of a “vinyasa” practice. Notice, also, that there is no reference to balancing the different types of energy associated the difference sides of the body… although, that too is tantra.

“The problems of puzzles are very near the problems of life.”

 

– Ernö Rubik

So, you can see how our mind-bodies and, therefore our practice, are like puzzles – like a giant Rubik’s Cubes. On a certain level, however, our lives – and relationships – are different from a physical puzzle; because we don’t start with a picture of the finished product and we don’t know if we have all the pieces. Let’s be honest, we don’t even know if all the pieces we have are for a single puzzle. Despite these differences, we can take a page from the life of the creator of one of the most popular toys of the 80’s: we can visualize the picture we want; see what fits and what doesn’t fit; be open to the possibilities that are around us and inside of us; and use the tools at hand.

Born in Budapest, Kingdom of Hungary on July 13, 1944, Ernö Rubik started off as an architect and architect professor. He studied at the Secondary School of Fine and Applied Arts, the Budapest University of Technology and Economics (where he joined the architecture faculty), and the Hungarian Academy of Applied Arts and Design, also known as the Moholy-Nagy University of Art and Design (where was a member of the Faculty of Interior Architecture and Design). As a professor, he wanted to build a three dimensional model he could use to help his architecture students develop spatial awareness and solve design problems. He started off with 27 wooden blocks, which would have worked great if he just wanted a static three dimensional model. But, Rubik wanted something he could easily move into a variety of shapes. That was his vision.

Now, one thing to keep in mind is that this particular creator didn’t just have a background in architecture (with an emphasis on sculpture). He was also the son of two parents who were themselves creators: his father being a world-renowned engineer of gliders and his mother being a poet. Although, Rubik is quick to credit his father as one of his inspirations, it’s best not to ignore the fact that he grew up watching both of his parents creating things that delighted others.

So, he had a vision and he had pieces to his “puzzle.” He even knew how everything fit together. He just didn’t know how everything would move together. Then one day, while walking on a cobblestone bridge in Budapest, he looked down and realized if the core of his model resembled the cobblestones he could twist and turn the pieces accordingly. Violá!

Ernö Rubik had the vision (a “picture” of the final product); the pieces and how they fit together; and he was open to different possibilities so that when (metaphorically speaking) he stumbled on the cobblestone, he recognized the opportunity. Finally, because of his father’s experience as an inventor, he knew how to apply for a patent and what was needed to take something to market. Even though he ran into a few problems along the way – after all, he was doing all of this under a communist regime – he eventually licensed his invention, the “Magic Cube” to the U. S. based Ideal Toys. Invented on May 19, 1974 and renamed “Rubik’s Cube” in 1979, the toy was introduced to the world in 1980. The toy was so popular that it led Ernö Rubik to create more three dimensional puzzles, including Rubik’s Magic, Rubik’s Snake, and Rubik’s 360.

“If you are curious, you’ll find the puzzles around you. If you are determined, you will solve them.”

 

 

– Ernö Rubik

Even though all of Ernö Rubik’s puzzles can be viewed through a geometric and mathematical lens – and even though they mostly rely on the engagement of a central core – there are some differences between the puzzles. Rubik’s 360 requires a certain amount of manual dexterity that is not required to manipulate the other toys and Rubik’s Snake can be a bit like origami, in that the toy can be made into different shapes. But, perhaps the most puzzling of all is the original Rubik’s Magic.

The original Rubik’s Magic has eight interwoven black tiles with rainbow rings painted on the front and the back. In its “unsolved” (flat, rectangular) state, the front of the tiles show three rings side-by-side and the back of the tiles show pieces of three rings that will be interlocking when the puzzle is solved. The puzzle can be manipulated to make a ton of different shapes, like a star, a box, a bench, and even a toy chest. In fact, in the “solved” position, the rectangle becomes heart-shaped. The tiles fold and unfold horizontally and vertically, in tandem and individually – which means they flip into each other, over each other, twist, and can be rolled like a wheel. Later iterations of the puzzle featured images (like the Simpsons going to the beach, Harry Potter playing quidditch, and dinosaurs) that create a bit of a story.  

Take a moment to consider what happens if your life is like the images on a Rubik’s Magic. Yes, you might see your life as disconnected circles or you might see yourself as separate from the other people around you. Consider, however, what twists and turns, flips and rolls, get you connected. Or, more accurately, get you to recognize that you are already connected. If you see one side of you Magic as the image of how your life is at this moment, consider that the other side is the image of some goal, desire, or experience you’d like to achieve. The pieces are there, again, you just have to flip, twist, turn, and roll things so that you’re relaxing on the beach or grabbing the golden snitch.

Again, the pieces are already there; it’s all just a matter of “placing things in a special way.” When we look at our lives – or even other people’s lives (if you check out the link above) – through the energetic system of our practice, we start to develop more awareness about the puzzle. We even might start to realize that we are the center of the puzzle.

 

“Our whole life is solving puzzles.”

                                                                                          

– Ernö Rubik

 

 

Tuesday’s  playlist available on YouTube and Spotify. [Look for the “06032020 How Can We See, Dr. Wiesel” playlist.] 

 

 

 

“A good puzzle, it’s a fair thing. Nobody is lying. It’s very clear, and the problem depends just on you.”

 

 

– Ernö Rubik

 

 

 

### Only A Little Puzzling ###

 

 

Speaking of Things that Were Not Televised… June 30, 2021

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Books, Changing Perspectives, Life, Men, Philosophy, Science, TV, Wisdom, Women, Writing, Yoga.
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“It has often and confidently been asserted, that man’s origin can never be known: but ignorance more frequently begets confidence than does knowledge: it is those who know little, and not those who know much, who so positively assert that this or that problem will never be solved by science.”

– from The Descent of Man, and Selection in Relation to Sex by Charles Darwin (pub. 1871)

Let’s start with a plea and a digression.

Please, please, please don’t miss understand me. When I say that I’m not a Cardi B fan, I’m not saying that I dislike her (or her music) – I’m just saying that I don’t really listen to rap music. (Although, I really, really, really do get a kick out of those “If Cardi B Did the Sound Effects for Star Wars” videos.) That being said, you would have to have been living under a rock to not have heard Cardi B’s name in the last few years.

Maybe you heard of her because someone loves her music: Her accolades include being the only woman to win the Grammy Award for Best Rap Album as a solo artist and the first female rap artist to have a RIAA Diamond-certified song, which means it sold (and/or streamed) over 10 million units – and in the United States that applies to less than 60 songs. Maybe you heard about her because someone hates her music and/or finds it offensive: Yes, WAP, I’m looking at you and all the records you broke – including making Cardi B the first (and so far, only) female rapper to achieve Billboard Hot 100 chart-topping singles in two decades and the first (and so far, only) female rap artist to top the Global Spotify chart on multiple occasions. Maybe you heard of her because of her relationship with her husband; her relationship with other rappers; and/or allegations (and indictments) for violent and otherwise illegal behavior. Or maybe, you heard about the fact that she recognizes that her songs are not all appropriate for children (and, ergo, won’t let her toddler listen to them).

Maybe you know nothing about her except that she is not shy about her speaking her mind when it comes to politics. (Again, I’m not a fan and I’m not here to condone or debate some/any of her statements. I’ll just say that I can appreciate that she publicly “stans” Eleanor Roosevelt.) You also might have heard about Cardi B recently, because people have been talking about how she announced the fact that she is pregnant with her second child.

In listening to a group of moms talk about Cardi B’s announcement (on social media and at the BET Awards), I was struck by the part where these women – from different generations, but all older than the aforementioned 28-year old – talked about how they didn’t document their pregnancies and/or their children’s lives the way some people do today. The same was true for their mothers and themselves as children. Part of the mom-discussion was about body image and body positivity – which is another point of pride for some and contention for others when it comes to Cardi B. However, some of the conversation was related to technology and the changing awareness around how the most mundane and/or “long and boring” things can also be the most important.

Even when they are not televised.

What happens if we could go back to the begin; go back to our origins? What if we could go back to our origins as a person, our origins as a member of a specific group we decided to join (like a political or social organization) and/or a member of a group (like race, gender, ethnicity, sex, and/or generation) into which we were born? What if we could go back to the origins of our country, our species, or our planet – and watch things unfold in real time?

What if we could see exactly how things developed… or evolved, purely from the stand point of an observer? Would the opportunity to witness the truth or reality of something change our engagement with that something, ourselves, other people and/or the world?

And what if, in going back, we were able to witness how our ideas around such things developed… and evolved?

[The first quote above and the remainder of this post, excluding details and links for current classes, were originally posted on June 30, 2020.]

“We will now discuss in a little more detail the struggle for existence…. I should premise that I use the term Struggle for Existence in a large and metaphorical sense, including dependence of one being on another, and including (which is more important) not only the life of the individual, but success in leaving progeny.”

– from On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life by Charles Darwin (pub. 1859)

On November 24, 1859, Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of the Species was published and created great uproar. There were debates, lectures, protests, and (eventually) trials over Darwin’s controversial ideas.  Some events, like the so-called “Scopes Monkey Trial” in July 1925 would have such a circus atmosphere they would be covered by the media at the time and remembered by generations. Others, like the so-called “Huxley-Wilberforce debate” or “Wilberforce-Huxley debate,” were not widely covered at the time, but became the stuff of legends years later.

Today in 1860, 7 months after Darwin’s controversial work was released to the public. John William Draper, one of the founders of the New York University School of Medicine, presented a paper during the British Science Association’s annual meeting. Draper’s paper on “On the Intellectual Development of Europe, considered with reference to the views of Mr. Darwin and others, that the progression of organisms is determined by law” was considered “long and boring,” It was one of several papers presented that week, and could have easily been lost to the world, but it was followed by a rousing debate (or “animated discussion,” depending on who you asked) between Thomas Henry Huxley, Bishop Samuel Wilberforce, Benjamin Brodie, Joseph Dalton Hooker, and Robert FitzRoy (Darwin’s captain and companion during the events chronicled in Darwin’s The Voyage of the Beagle, published in 1839).

Notice, there were other people involved in the discussion, but what people remembered was the very personal exchange between Huxley (who had been privy to Darwin’s work before it was published) and Wilberforce (who, after being asked by the publisher to review Origins, wrote an anonymous attack on the work).

“Is it on your grandmother’s or grandfather’s side that you are descended from an ape?”

– Bishop Samuel Wilberforce to Thomas Henry Huxley (reportedly), June 30, 1860

 “I asserted – and I repeat – that a man has no reason to be ashamed of having an ape for his grandfather. If there were an ancestor whom I should feel shame in recalling it would rather be a man – a man of restless and versatile intellect – who, not content with an equivocal success in his own sphere of activity, plunges into scientific questions with which he has no real acquaintance, only to obscure them with aimless rhetoric, and distract the attention of his hearers from the real point at issue by eloquent digressions and skilled appeals to religious prejudice.”

– Thomas Henry Huxley to Bishop Samuel Wilberforce (reportedly), June 30, 1860 (from Life and Letters of Thomas Henry Huxley, by his Son Leonard Huxley by Leonard Huxley (Volume I)

Please join me today (Wednesday, June 30th) at 4:30 PM or 7:15 PM for a yoga practice on Zoom. Use the link from the “Class Schedules” calendar if you run into any problems checking into the class. You will need to register for the 7:15 PM class if you have not already done so. Give yourself extra time to log in if you have not upgraded to Zoom 5.0. You can request an audio recording of this practice via a comment below or by emailing myra (at) ajoyfulpractice.com.

Wednesday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify. [Look for “March 31 Hays Code 2020”]

If you are using an Apple device/browser and the “Class Schedules” calendar is no longer loading, you may need to upgrade your browser, or you can email me at myra (at) ajoyfulpractice.com at least 20 minutes before the practice you would like to attend.

In the spirit of generosity (“dana”), the Zoom classes, playlists, and blog posts are freely given and freely received. If you are able to support these teachings, please do so as your heart moves you. (NOTE: You can donate even if you are “attending” a practice that is not designated as a “Common Ground Meditation Center” practice, or you can purchase class(es). (Donations to Common Ground and Mind Body Solutions are tax deductible; class purchases and donations directly to me are not necessarily deductible.)

(NOTE: I’ve re-set the settings for making comments. And yes, that’s two weeks, out of 3, that I’ve mentioned the Scopes Monkey Trial.)

DON’T FORGET! There’s a “First Friday Night Special” on Friday, July 2nd, 7:15 – 8:20 PM (CST) & the focus will be on “the effort to free/liberate yourself from….” Additional details are available on the “Class Schedules” calendar.

### EVOLUTION REVOLUTION ###

Origins June 30, 2020

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“It has often and confidently been asserted, that man’s origin can never be known: but ignorance more frequently begets confidence than does knowledge: it is those who know little, and not those who know much, who so positively assert that this or that problem will never be solved by science.”

 

– from The Descent of Man, and Selection in Relation to Sex by Charles Darwin (pub. 1871)

 

“We will now discuss in a little more detail the struggle for existence…. I should premise that I use the term Struggle for Existence in a large and metaphorical sense, including dependence of one being on another, and including (which is more important) not only the life of the individual, but success in leaving progeny.”

 

– from On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life by Charles Darwin (pub. 1859)

On November 24, 1859, Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of the Species was published and created great uproar. There were debates, lectures, protests, and (eventually) trials over Darwin’s controversial ideas.  Some events, like the so-called “Scopes Monkey Trial” in July 1925 would have such a circus atmosphere they would be covered by the media at the time and remembered by generations. Others, like the so-called “Huxley-Wilberforce debate” or “Wilberforce-Huxley debate,” were not widely covered at the time, but became the stuff of legends years later.

Today in 1860, 7 months after Darwin’s controversial work was released to the public. John William Draper, one of the founders of the New York University School of Medicine, presented a paper during the British Science Association’s annual meeting. Draper’s paper on “On the Intellectual Development of Europe, considered with reference to the views of Mr. Darwin and others, that the progression of organisms is determined by law” was considered “long and boring,” It was one of several papers presented that week, and could have easily been lost to the world, but it was followed by a rousing debate (or “animated discussion,” depending on who you asked) between Thomas Henry Huxley, Bishop Samuel Wilberforce, Benjamin Brodie, Joseph Dalton Hooker, and Robert FitzRoy (Darwin’s captain and companion during the events chronicled in Darwin’s The Voyage of the Beagle, published in 1839).

Notice, there were other people involved in the discussion, but what people remembered was the very personal exchange between Huxley (who had been privy to Darwin’s work before it was published) and Wilberforce (who, after being asked by the publisher to review Origins, wrote an anonymous attack on the work).

“Is it on your grandmother’s or grandfather’s side that you are descended from an ape?”

 

– Bishop Samuel Wilberforce to Thomas Henry Huxley (reportedly), June 30, 1860

 “I asserted – and I repeat – that a man has no reason to be ashamed of having an ape for his grandfather. If there were an ancestor whom I should feel shame in recalling it would rather be a man – a man of restless and versatile intellect – who, not content with an equivocal success in his own sphere of activity, plunges into scientific questions with which he has no real acquaintance, only to obscure them with aimless rhetoric, and distract the attention of his hearers from the real point at issue by eloquent digressions and skilled appeals to religious prejudice.”

 

– Thomas Henry Huxley to Bishop Samuel Wilberforce (reportedly), June 30, 1860 (from Life and Letters of Thomas Henry Huxley, by his Son Leonard Huxley by Leonard Huxley (Volume I)

Please join me today (Tuesday, June 30th) at 12 Noon or 7:15 PM for a virtual yoga practice on Zoom. Use the link from the “Class Schedules” calendar if you run into any problems checking into the class. Give yourself extra time to log in if you have not upgraded to Zoom 5.0. You can request an audio recording of this practice via a comment below.

Tuesday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify. (This playlist is dated March 31.)

 

### EVOLUTION REVOLUTION ###

 

 

A Joyful Practice is (officially) Zooming! March 27, 2020

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Abhyasa, Changing Perspectives, Music, One Hoop, Philosophy, Vairagya, Yoga.
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man wearing mask

Photo by Quaz Amir on Pexels.com

Zooming! Is that even a word? It is now. The calendar is now updated with information about live, (virtually in person) practices happening weekly. So far, everyone says it feels pretty much like their regular, good old joyful practice!

Once you have the meeting ID, you can use the ZOOM app, your internet browser, or a telephone to access the meeting. Meeting IDs are different for each class time, but each ID will remain the same from week to week. You must register for the Wednesday night (Flourish) “Slow Flow” – but you only need to register once. (At this point in time you do not need a password for any of the practices.) I am working on making playlists available on my YouTube channel and on Spotify.

If you are new to yoga or new to vinyasa, please send me a message (myra at ajoyfulpractice.com) before joining the group. I apologize to my YIN Yoga folks, but at this time I am not streaming any full YIN practices, I will, however, continue to post or link you to the practice. Also, keep on the lookout for a special YIN Yoga webinar coming soon!

Those who are able may purchase or renew a package on my online store. Anyone can also make a donation (in lieu of a package) to Common Ground. (Donations are tax deductible.) If you purchase a Nokomis Package note that there is a discounted package for students, seniors, Healthcare Providers, and First Responders.

I want you to practice; so don’t let any financial issues be an obstacle you can’t get over! If you need it, I got you. Also, some recorded practices will be available at a later date.

Looking forward to seeing you on the (virtual) mat!

 

### NAMASTE ###

 

 

WORKING TOGETHER – 2018 Kiss My Asana Offering #12 April 12, 2018

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in 31-Day Challenge, Abhyasa, Bhakti, Books, Buddhism, Changing Perspectives, Depression, Dharma, Donate, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Faith, Fitness, Gratitude, Healing Stories, Health, Hope, Karma Yoga, Life, Loss, Love, Mala, Meditation, Men, Minneapolis, Minnesota, Music, Mysticism, One Hoop, Pain, Peace, Philosophy, Poetry, Suffering, Surya Namaskar, Tantra, Texas, Twin Cities, Vairagya, Vipassana, Volunteer, Wisdom, Women, Writing, Yin Yoga, Yoga.
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“As far as I can tell, daughter, it works like this:
You buy bread from a grocery, a bag of apples
From a fruit stand, and what coins
Are passed on helps others buy pencils, glue,
Tickets to a movie in which laughter
Is thrown into their faces.
If we buy a goldfish, someone tries on a hat.
If we buy crayons, someone walks home with a broom.
A tip, a small purchase here and there,
And things just keep going. I guess.”

– from How Things Work by Gary Soto

If you practice yoga (or anything) long enough – sometimes it only takes a few seconds, sometimes a few hours, sometimes days, sometimes months – you start to notice how things work. If you practice yoga (or anything) long enough – sometimes it only takes a few minutes, sometime a few weeks, sometimes years, sometimes a lifetime – you start to notice how everything is connected. The awareness of interconnectedness develops on and off the mat.

But, let us just begin with awareness on the mat.

The physical practice, hatha yoga, regardless of the style or tradition, is a combination of the third limb of the philosophy (asana, seat) and the fourth limb (pranayama, awareness or extension of breath/life force). Again, regardless of the style or tradition, building a pose starts with establishing a base – that’s the seat – and then building from the ground up so that you can breathe – that’s the awareness of breath. This makes sense, right? I mean, a carpenter does not build a house by magically floating a chandelier over an empty space and then building the ceiling, followed by the walls, and then the foundation. And, even if they used a crane instead of magic (to hold up the chandelier) at some point they have to figure out a way to remove the crane. One method makes sense, and is sustainable. One method might be a fun experiment, but eventually leads to chaos and a big mess.

Vinyasa is a technique as well as a very popular style of physical practice in the West. It involves the linking of breath and poses, but the way in which it is practiced can look and feel very different – depending on how and why things are connected. When we think of vinyasa as “flow,” instead of the literal “to place in a special way,” we may miss why some poses feel natural when linked together and why other sequences feel awkward and clunky.

Vinyasa karma is the science of placing things in a (special) way that leads to a step-by-step progression towards a goal. There is an element of vinyasa karma in every good practice – even when the practice is not a vinyasa practice. Here, I am defining a “good” practice as being one where you feel your time on the mat was well spent and that time leaves you feeling more connected. And, over time, you may notice that it is the sequencing of poses which creates that sense of connectedness.

Sequencing can also help us gain more awareness of how things work, because it brings our awareness to how we prepare. When we are focused only on the outside of the body, and not on the inner engagement or the breath, we miss the opportunity to prepare for the next pose or the next breath. Yes, the body and the mind can do amazing things – including, if we desire it enough, contort into one pretzel shape after another – but, some amazing feats are not sustainable.

For instance, if a non-dancer or non-gymnast starts off a physical practice with a big back bend like Camel Pose (Ustrasana) they may find the legs are a little shaky, the hips sink back, the core collapses, and the upper back is stiff – in fact, they may find the only thing ready for the pose is a hyper-flexible neck: Notice the difference. One the flip side, a person who works hunched over at a desk or an assembly line all day can progress into the pose if they first do something to engage the strength of the legs; the flexibility of the hips; the stability of the core; and the flexibility of the full spine, shoulders, and arms. What they do to achieve these effects depends on the style and tradition and, ideally, on the individual needs of their mind-body-spirit.

As another example, consider how you move into a balancing pose. Some people establish a base, shift the weight, engage the core, and “float” up. They then spend their time in the pose breathing deeply in, breathing deeply out. On the other hand, some people “jump” into balancing poses. They often get lucky – which means they don’t immediately crash and burn, but they may spend the whole time in the pose worried that they are going to crash and burn. Yes, everybody falls down. The question is what did falling down teach you?

The body and the mind have a way of naturally finding balance within the imbalance. When we mimic the body’s natural tendencies, we feel stronger, more flexible, more open and lighthearted, more grounded, and more at ease within ourselves and our surroundings. When we feel more connected to ourselves and our surroundings, we also have more awareness into what is. More awareness leads to more insight, which enables us to respond, rather than react, to the situations in which we find ourselves. (Note: Vipassana is a very popular technique and style of meditation that literally means to see in a special way.)

Great teachers, on and off the mat, have said, “You don’t have to believe me. Try it for yourself.” In “Looking Around, Believing,” Gary Soto wrote, “How strange that we can begin at any time.” Begin now.

How Things Work + Looking around, Believing + Between Words – by Gary Soto

(Practice Time: ~ 15 – 20 minutes)

Very deliberately and mindfully place yourself in Child’s Pose (Balasana). Notice how your body rests between or on your legs, and make sure your knees are comfortable. Remember, you can always place a cushion under the knees, under the hips, or under the chest. Notice how your head rests so that your neck can lengthen. Breathe and notice how the body expands on the inhale, settles on the exhale.

Start to engage your locks (bandhas) on the exhale: spread the toes and press the feet down (in this case tops of the feet down) for the Foot Lock (Pada Bandha); squeeze the perineum muscles together, lifting the pelvic floor for the Root Lock (Mula Bandha) – which engages your lower abdominal cavity; belly button up and back for abdominal core lock (Uddiyana Bandha) – which engages your upper abdominal cavity; draw the chin towards the throat and chest, lengthening the neck, for the Throat Lock (Jalandhara Bandha). Notice your awareness of your body when the locks (bandhas) are engaged versus when they are released.

Once you’ve engaged your mind-body-spirit, move into Table Top: stack shoulders over elbows, elbows over wrists, hips over knees. Press down to lift up, activating the arms, the legs, and the lower three (3) locks. Notice the length of the spine, and how you support it. Notice the air again shifting around you. Move through Cat/Cow or the “Un-Cat” sequence precisely matching the movement to the breath. Move from your core so that the gaze is the last thing to come up and the last thing to turn down.

Once your mind, body, and spirit are synchronized, curl your toes under and exhale into Downward Facing Dog (Adho Mukha Svanasana). Double check your engagement of the pose. Make sure all your fingers are spread wide, with the majority of the weight/pressure in your hands moving into the thumb and first finger. (So that, there is less weight/pressure applied to your outer wrists.) When you relax your head and shoulders, make sure your big toes are parallel to each other and at least a foot apart. Big toes can be behind the thumbs or behind the middle fingers. Hips are high, heels are low (reaching, but not necessarily touching the mat); and neck is long. Even if you have to bend your knees, find Cow Pose in this position (so that you have a straight line from your middle fingers all the way up to your hips and then a second straight line from your hips to the back of your knees). Eyes are on your nose, your belly button, or the space between your toes. Engage your locks (bandhas) as you are able. Engage the air between your arms, between your legs, and in the space beneath your body. Notice the feeling of your entire back body (including legs and feet).

Remember you can skip the arm balancing, by moving into Staff Pose (Dandasana) and positioning the arms accordingly or using “Dolphin Dog.” Another modification would be to do the pose on the wall. Either way, strongly engage your legs and your core. Notice the feeling of your entire back body (including legs and feet).

Stretch back (meaning, push your spine towards your thighs) and on an exhale walk your hands to your feet or bring your hands and feet together. Once hands are in line with the toes and heels are flat to the mat, inhale to a Half Lift/Flat Back or Extended Forward Bend. (This pose may be called Ardha Uttanasana or Urdhva Uttanasana.) Place your hands on your thighs and press the shoulders into the metaphorical back pockets. Remember, you want to engage in a similar fashion to Cow Pose, Staff Pose, and Downward Facing Dog. In fact, inhale and find a little bit of Cow Pose (even if you have to bend your knees). Now, press the heels down and – as much as you are able without losing the extension of the spine – engage the quadriceps to extend through the knees and press the thigh bones into the wall behind you. Engage your locks (bandhas) as you are able. Again, notice the feeling of your entire back body (including legs and feet).

If you have unregulated blood pressure, low back issues, eye issues like glaucoma, or if this is already challenging, remember to stay here with knees bent.

Otherwise, if it is not contraindicated, bend the knees and flex from the hips to prep Forward Bend (Uttanasana). Keeping the upper back extended, place the hands on the floor or a block and begin to extend through the legs while pressing the thigh bones into the backs of your legs. Do not force the extension. Use the exhales to settle the heart on the thighs (as much as you are able without losing the extension of the spine.) If your legs are completely straight, make sure the knee caps are lifted and that you are not hyper-extending the knees. Also double check to ensure that if the knees are straight the hips are over the knees, not behind the ankles. Remember to engage your locks (bandhas). Notice the length of the spine. Again, notice the feeling of your entire back body (including legs and feet).

Inhale to Half Lift / Flat Back and use the exhale to engage your core. With hands on the hips, maintain the length of the spine and lift up to standing. Relax your arms by your sides. Balance the weight between all four corners of both feet. Feel free to move side-to-side or back and forth on the feet until you feel you are centered. Spread the toes, press big toes and little toes down, as well as both sides of the heels. (This establishes “all four corners of both feet.”) Engage the quadriceps in order to lift the knee caps and firm up the thighs. Sit bones point down so that the pelvic bones lift up. Engage your locks (bandhas). As you press down in order to lift the sternum up, use the core abdominal muscles to draw the lower rib cage down. Relax the shoulders and gaze straight ahead. This is Equal Standing / Mountain Pose (Samasthiti/Tadasana).

Changing as little as possible, stretch the arms out like the letter T. Once your arms are wide, extend out of the center of your chest. Make sure shoulders, lower rib cage, and sits bones are reaching down. Notice the air above and below your arms. Now, turn the palms up and inhale your arms overhead. (Many traditions refer to this as Arms Reaching Overhead (Urdhva Hastasana), but I tend to call this Tadasana). Make sure the lower rib cage drops down as the sternum lifts up and notice how that helps you engage your core. After several breaths, lower the arms to your sides on an exhale.

Now, maintaining the previously established alignment and awareness of breath, use the whole inhale to lift the arms overhead and the whole exhale to press the hands together through heart center. On the exhale of the third centering breath, walk to the front of the mat with hands through heart center.

Equal Standing is like a soldier in the “Ready” position. Moving through half of a Sun Salutation (Surya Namaskar), inhale arms over head into Arms Reaching Overhead; exhale and stretch the arms out wide as you dive between the hands into a Forward Bend; inhale to a Half Lift / Flat Back; exhale back to Forward Bend. Keeping the knees bent and the core engaged, inhale to reverse swan dive and then exhale hands back to your sides. Repeat the sequence until you feel your movement and breath are seamlessly fluid.

After the final exhale into Forward Bend, inhale into a Half Lift/ Flat Back and then step your left leg way back into a low lunge. Make sure the feet are in two separate lanes. Inhale to lengthen the spine and then exhale the back knee to the mat. Give yourself cushion under the back knee, as needed. Pressing down evenly into both feet, lift your torso up and place hands on your right thigh for a variation of Crescent Lunge (Anjaneyasana).

Use an exhale to slide the hips over the back knee and then place the back of the right hand on your sacrum (the flat part of your bum/hips) and place your left hand on the front of your pelvic bones. Your hands are now bracketing your hips. Slide the back hand down in order to direct the sit bones down. You may feel the front hand lifting as the pelvic bones lift. Notice the length of your spine, especially your low back. You may also feel engagement in your left hip and thigh. Stay here or bend the front knee deeper into the lunge – remembering to maintain the space in your low back. Hands can come to your front thigh or reach the hands over head. Again, engage your locks (bandhas). Focus on the stability of the feet, legs, and hips. Focus, also, on the extension of the front of the back hip and thigh. This is the beginning of a backbend.

When you are ready to move on, place the hands on the mat and step back to Child’s Pose. From Child’s Pose, you may inhale to Cow Pose or, first time through, slide your body forward so that the legs stretch out behind you. Press the tops of the feet down, push the hands into the floor beneath your shoulders and inhale into Cobra Pose (Bhujangasana). Elbows should be bent behind the back like grasshopper legs (unless you are working on a baby cobra.) Thighs are strongly engaged and pushing into the floor. Hips stay on the ground. Keep the shoulders down the back and either isometrically engage the arms – by pushing the hands down and engaging the arms as if you’re going to pull your body forward – or let your hands hover (breathing into the space between your hands and the mat). After a few breaths, consider extending your Cobra by pressing the hands and feet down and lifting the body up until the arms straighten. Shoulders and hips are still pressing down. Notice the difference between how the front of your lift hip and thigh feel versus the right hip and thigh.

On an exhale, curl your toes under and press back to Downward Facing Dog. Repeat the sequence of standing poses (starting with the first Forward Bend after Downward Facing Dog, substituting left for right). After the Child’s Pose, you may inhale to Cow Pose, Cobra Pose, or, second time through, glide your body up and forward so that the legs stretch out behind you with the arms straight and the hips lifted away from the mat. Press the tops of the feet down, push the hands into the floor beneath your shoulders and inhale into Upward Facing Dog (Urdhva Mukha Svanasana). Thighs are strongly engaged and lifting up towards the ceiling. Kneecaps lift up towards the hips – again, so that the thighs are firm. Again, compare the feeling at the front of the hips and thighs.

After the second side of standing poses and backbends, move into Downward Facing Dog, and then into Staff Pose (Dandasana). Sitting tall with legs stretched out in front of you: remember, this pose is not disposable. Consider the length of your spine and how you use your locks (bandhas) to maintain it.

Keep the left leg extended and bend the right knee in order to set up the Sage Twist. Remember to keep the left heel and the right foot flat on the floor. You can place the right foot next to the inside or the outside of the left leg, as long as the knees are comfortable and the right foot is flat on the floor.

On an inhale, lift your right arm up and, as you watch it, reach the right arm back to the floor behind your hips. As you settle into the twist, adjust your left arm to provide additional support wherever you need it. You can always sit on a block and/or place a block under your hand if you’re hips and low back are really tight. If you don’t have a block, substitute a book.

Watch how you engage your base, your core, and your breath in order to lengthen your spine. Remember to start the twist in your base (not in your neck). Do not allow your body to collapse or untwist until you complete 3 – 5 complete breaths. Notice how the air moves within you and all around you. Pay particular attention to how the space shifts between your belly and legs. After the third or fifth exhale, inhale to center, give the lifted knee a squeeze, and return to Staff Pose. Repeat the Sage Twist instructions for the Sage Twist (replacing right with left).

After the third or fifth exhale on the left, inhale to center and give the lifted knee a squeeze. Bend both knees, placing the feet flat on the floor. (NOTE: If you’d rather not balance on your sits bones, lie down on your back and follow the cues.) Reach the arms forward with elbows next to the knees. Press down as if you are going to jump forward. Spread your toes, squeeze your perineum muscles together, belly button is up and back, press your shoulders down, and draw the chin towards the neck. Look up and press down to lift the ribs up on the inhale. As you exhale, lean back until the feet are off the ground and you are balancing on your tail bone. Bring legs up parallel to the ground. Check in with your locks (bandhas) – maybe even lifting the corners of your mouth up towards your ears for a smiling bandha. Begin to extend the legs by engaging the quadriceps and pushing through the heels. Keep your nose up and your eyes on your nose. This is Boat Pose (Navasana).

Find your edge, making sure your core works harder than your jaw or your arms. And then, lower down onto your back for Corpse Pose (Savasana). Classically, the physical practice is intended to prepare the body and mind for deep seated meditation. This final moment is an opportunity for your body and mind to process and absorb what you’ve done during the practice. Find a place where your body and mind are still. Let the breath naturally ebb and flow. Breathe and allow your mind to follow the breath into the space within you and the space all around you.

“Love,
The moon is between clouds,
And we’re between words
That could deepen
But never arrive.”

– from Between Words by Gary Soto

If you practice long enough, you start to notice how everyone is connected.

Poets, philosophers, preachers, students of dharma are all fascinated by the inner (and outer) workings of the world, how everything and everyone are connected. You see it in the poems of Mark Strand and Misuzu Kaneko, as well as in the poems of Gary Soto. You see it in the sermons of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and in the dharma talks of Thich Naht Hanh. You see it in Martin Buber’s concept Ich und Du; that we only truly exist in relationship. You see it, again and again, and yet….It is so easy not to see it.

One of the reasons I practice yoga is to actively and mindfully see the connections. Moving through the practice is like moving through life, with all of its twists, turns, and challenges. Sometimes, like in the practices I’m offering this month, we symbolically move through the stages of life: from the pose of a child we learn to stand up, to walk, to play and explore, and finally to slow down and rest. We do this every day, we day this every lifetime. Still, no part of us does it alone – everything is connected.

This opportunity to explore a poem on the mat is part of my offering for the 2018 Kiss My Asana yogathon. I encourage you to set aside at least 5 minutes a day during April, to practice with the poem as inspiration. You can practice in a class or on your own, but since the Kiss My Asana yogathon raises resources as well as awareness, I invite you to join me at the donation-based class on April 28th.

I also challenge you to set aside a certain amount every day that you practice with a poem in mind. It doesn’t matter if you set aside one dollar per practice or $25 – set aside that amount each time you practice and donate it by April 30th.

Founded by Matthew Sanford, Mind Body Solutions helps those who have experienced trauma, loss, and disability find new ways to live by integrating both mind and body. They provide classes, workshops, and outreach programs. They also train yoga teachers and offer highly specialized training for health care professionals. By participating in the Kiss My Asana yogathon you join a global movement, but in a personal way. In other words, you practice yoga. Or, as this year’s tag line states….

### do yoga. share yoga. help others. ###